Tag Archives: terror

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #20 – KATHRYN BIGELOW

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #20 – KATHRYN BIGELOW

If there’s specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore that as an obstacle for two reasons: I can’t change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies. It’s irrelevant who or what directed a movie, the important thing is that you either respond to it or you don’t. There should be more women directing; I think there’s just not the awareness that it’s really possible. It is.“— Kathryn Bigelow in 1990


Having most recently directed the searing period drama, Detroit (2017), Bigelow has been making feature films, since her debut, The Loveless (1981), for over thirty-nine years. With a strong academic background, having studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and Columbia University, it’s fascinating to review a career which has eschewed arthouse cinema and essentially been spent working mainly on big-budget genre films. However, one can see in her directorial canon that Bigelow, while striving for commercial success, is constantly testing the boundaries of genre storytelling.

Along with a powerful visual style that attains symbiosis with the core material, she intelligently explores themes relating to violence, individual freedom versus the system, masculinity in crisis, gender representations and socio-political corruption. Lastly, her characters are often outsiders, morally complex and dealing with deep personal trauma. In short: Bigelow’s worldview is one of both healthy scepticism and cynicism, but also an element of hope within the longing for control. So, here are five of Kathryn Bigelow’s most impactful cinematic releases.

***ARTICLE CONTAINS FILM SPOILERS***



NEAR DARK (1987)

While The Lost Boys (1987) is rightly regarded as a very entertaining 80’s vampire film, Near Dark (1987) is way, way superior. Despite not catching fire at the box office, this neo-horror-western contains a fantastic cast of James Cameron alumni, including: Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton and Jenette Goldstein. These great character actors inhabit this snarling gang of vampires perfectly as the film contains shockingly brutal violence and hard-bitten dialogue amidst a tender love story.



BLUE STEEL (1990)

While Jamie Lee Curtis is generally better known for her horror and comedy film performances, Kathryn Bigelow made excellent use of her dramatic acting ability as a rookie police officer caught up with Ron Silver’s psychotic commodities trader. Blue Steel (1990) is a variegated genre film which takes a standard police procedural narrative and twists it into something far more psychologically compelling. Lee Curtis excels, as does vicious bad-guy Silver, aptly named Eugene Hunt!



POINT BREAK (1991)

This classic heist meets surfing movie meets gay subtext bromance is jam-packed with classic action scenes and faux-deep philosophical musings. Keanu Reeves is the daftly named cop, Johnny Utah, who goes undercover, amidst the beach brigade to find a bunch of bank robbers. His suspicions fall on Patrick Swayze’s elemental surfer-dude-god and a dangerous “bromantic” game of cat-and-mouse ensues. Bigelow scored her first major hit with Point Break (1991), infusing it with some incredibly visceral stunt, surfing, robbery and chase sequences in an exhilarating film experience.



THE HURT LOCKER (2008)

After the box office failures of her previous three films, the under-rated sci-fi thriller, Strange Days (1995), enigmatic mystery, The Weight of Water (2000), and stodgy cold war film, K-19: The Widowmaker (2002), Bigelow’s seemingly took a career break. She would, however, come back with her most critically acclaimed and Oscar-winning film, The Hurt Locker (2008). From a brilliant script by Mark Boal and led by Jeremy Renner’s standout lead performance, The Hurt Locker (2008), put the audience right at the heart of a bomb disposal unit in Iraq. Putting aside the politics for a moment, the film is full of incredibly tense and superbly edited scenes which have your heart in your mouth. Simultaneously too, the film also shows the devastating emotional, physical and mental effect war has on the people of Iraq and the soldiers sent to fight this horrifically unjust conflict.



ZERO DARK THIRTY (2012)

Whereas The Hurt Locker (2008) had highly emotional and empathetic protagonists, Bigelow and Boal’s next film Zero Dark Thirty (2012), is a much more clinical and technically efficient cinematic experience. In parts, both a war drama and espionage thriller, the story also has a feel of an old-fashioned Western as American military and CIA operatives, led by the excellent Jessica Chastain and Jason Clarke, hunt down Osama Bin Laden. Politically speaking this is a film which makes me feel very uncomfortable for a number of reasons. It plays out like a revenge story. It also seems to both criticize and vindicate torture in the early scenes. This makes me uneasy as I understand the 9/11 attacks were just horrific, yet they seemed to get used as a motive for many more atrocities by the United States government. I guess that was what Bigelow and Boal were going for. They attempted to create a morally and emotionally complex war thriller that lets you interpret the events yourself and conclude one’s own judgements.



CLASSIC HORROR FILM DOUBLE BILL REVIEW – BLACK SUNDAY (1960) & BLACK SABBATH (1963)

CLASSIC HORROR FILM REVIEWS – BLACK SUNDAY (1960) & BLACK SABBATH (1963)

What better way to distance oneself from the horror of real life than by watching some classic horror films? Not that my life is that bad as I am alive and healthy and doing very well in the lockdown circumstances. Thankfully I am not having to deal with the sick people like those in the NHS and medical facilities across the world. Kudos to those individuals trying to save lives and cure the sick. Who could have predicted that these events could unfold? It’s like society has been cursed.

Talking of curses, the horror genre is one of my favourites. Although, to be honest, I do love most genres of film. Indeed, while I’m not a massive fan of romance or musicals, if the film itself is well made, then I will watch and most likely enjoy it. However, if I want to be sure to favour a film, then horror will be one of my go to genres. One such legendary filmmaker of horror movies was Italian director, Mario Bava. I’m ashamed to admit I had not seen many of his releases, if any. Shocking really as he was known by many as the ‘Master of Italian horror’. Thus, I corrected that by recently watching both Black Sunday/Mask of Satan (1960) and Black Sabbath (1963). Here are two short reviews of these atmospheric horror classics.


Best Horror Movies of the 1960s: From Psycho to Blind Beast | Collider
Black Sunday (1960)

BLACK SUNDAY (1960)

Director: Mario Bava

Cast: Barbara Steele, John Richardson, Andrea Checchi, Ivo Garrani

Given Mario Bava was a talented cinematographer who worked on many Italian film productions it’s no surprise that Black Sunday (1960) looks incredible. The transfer I watched on Blu-ray was pristine with the black and white photography really shimmering on the screen. The lighting is all shards and jagged amidst the foreboding darkness and shadows. The story itself is a creepy gothic tale of curses, witchcraft and revenge. It starts with a grim opening scene as Asa, a witch (Barbara Steele), and her lover being punished by her brother for sorcery. This involves placing a spiked mask on their faces and burying them alive. She damns them to hell with the promise she will return one day to wreak retribution. Guess what happens centuries later? While it runs out of story toward the end the opening hour is full of scary imagery and chilling moments. While it may seem mild by today’s standards, Black Sunday (1960), was in fact heavily censored on release and was even banned in the United Kingdom until 1968. While today’s horror films rely much on cheap jump scares, this one is a good old-fashioned creepfest, spreading a pervading aura of fear from start to finish.

Mark: 8 out of 11



BLACK SABBATH (1963)

Director: Mario Bava

Cast: Boris Karloff, Mark Damon, Michele Mercier, Susy Anderson, Jacqueline Pierreux etc.

The original title of this film was The Three Faces of Fear and this is a much more compelling title than the one we got. Don’t get me wrong Black Sabbath (1960) works, but given this is an anthology featuring three short horror films relating to fear, it seems like a marketing ploy echoing previous horror Black Sunday (1960). Anyway, the three stories are very different in setting and tone but all work well with Boris Karloff introducing them. The first is a pre-Giallo style contemporary murder story called The Telephone. Here a glamorous call-girl is stalked by an unknown person via constant telephone calls. It’s a slow burn build up of fear, as silence then sudden ringing raises the heartrate before the fine twist at the end. The second story is called The Wurdalak. A more traditional vampire story, it finds a handsome nobleman falling in love with a rural village girl, whose family are threatened by a bloodsucking Wurdalak. This was so creepy as we get severed heads and vampiric children in a story which reminded me of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot. The final story, The Drop of Water is arguably the best. With more than a hint of The Tell-Tale Heart about it, the story finds a nurse stealing something from a dead woman, only for the vengeful ghost (or her guilty conscience) to take exception. Overall, this is a brilliant anthology horror film, which is still scary now and definitely stands the test of time.

Mark: 9 out of 11


THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020) – MOVIE REVIEW

THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)

Directed by: Leigh Whannell

Screenplay by Leigh Whannell – based on H. G. Wells The Invisible Man

Produced by: Jason Blum, Kylie du Fresne

Main cast: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Michael Dorman,

Music: Benjamin Wallfisch

Cinematography: Stefan Duscio

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



Many a work, home, pub, dinner party and school conversation has started with the following question: what would YOU do if you were invisible? Depending on the company it’s something that can descend into wild fantasy territory. Being invisible will allow you the freedom to spy and become the ultimate voyeur. You could also become a criminal and creep into places without being seen to thieve. You could be a prankster and play tricks on your friends and family. You could become a superhero, battle crime and help people. You could simply just disappear not just literally, but philosophically from society. The possibilities are endless.

H. G. Wells original novel is an absolute genre masterpiece. Arguably the most famous version was filmed in 1933 with incredible practical effects and an exceptional performance from Claude Rains. In this new version the conventional invisible scientist-goes-mad story is twisted successfully into an exhilarating horror suspense film with themes relating to toxic masculinity and abusive relationships. Here invisibility is used to control and instil fear, as the recently deceased Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is, according to his ex-partner, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss), targeting her from the grave.


Image result for the invisible man 2020 scenes

Leigh Whannell has great experience writing and producing low-budget horror films including: Saw (2004) and Insidious (2010). His last directorial release, Upgrade (2018), was a fantastic mix of 1980’s B-movies, sci-fi and horror cinema. Building on the crowd-pleasing thrills of Upgrade, Whannell has crafted a paranoiac classic with Elisabeth Moss giving a fantastically nerve-shredding and physically adept performance. From the tense opening scene, we empathise with her desire to escape a controlling and malevolent force. Building slowly throughout the first act, Whannell’s script brilliantly picks up the pace and plots Cecilia’s descent into a living hell. Consequently, Cecilia’s anxiety reaches peak stress as no one believes she is being set up by a gas-lighting, unseen and venal monster.

It pays to see this film on the big screen with the finest sound quality available. I watched it on an IMAX screen where the sound design and Benjamin Wallfisch’s amazing score really enhance the fear-inducing visuals. How the production team made this film for a reported $7 million dollars is beyond me. Yet, Whannell is an economical and highly efficient filmmaker. His writing is lean and mean, as the script is full of fantastic set-pieces and plot reversals. Moreover, the story is very relevant, exploring the themes of the day relating to domestic abuse, depression and mental illness. However, it’s not an overbearing message movie, but rather a smart and surprising thriller.

Overall, The Invisible Man (2020) starts strongly and proceeds to deliver a series of gripping and, at times, heart-in-the-mouth cinematic moments. There are none of the usual scientific and over-expositional set-ups that can slow down such films. The visuals, sound, score and performances deliver the story most effectively. I felt like there were a few fuzzy plot moments that Whannell could have explained in more detail, however, that could have hindered the pace of the story. Finally, with Elisabeth Moss imbuing her character with resilience, energy and steel, we get an individual who will never give up. She sees through her ghosting nemesis and will fight to the last breath to prove her innocence and remain in control.

Mark: 9 out of 11


LFF REVIEW – THE LODGE (2019) – SPOILER FREE

LFF REVIEW – THE LODGE (2019)

Directed by: Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala

Written by: Sergio Casci, Veronika Franz, Severin Fiala

Produced by: Simon Oakes, Aliza James, Aaron Ryder

Cast: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Alicia Silverstone, Richard Armitage

Music by: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans

******* SPOILER FREE *******



If you haven’t seen the Austrian horror film Goodnight Mommy (2014), then I urge you to do so. It is genuinely one of the most startling and creepy films of recent years. It psychologically gets under the skin with the story of a mother and her two children, isolated, as she recovers from reconstructive surgery. The directors, Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, proved themselves adept at creating memorable imagery, tense dread and a shocking ending up there with the horror classics.

With their latest film The Lodge (2019), they have once again ventured into the horror genre. Working with a fascinating screenplay from Silvio Casci, the film is full of intriguing themes relating to religious cults, grief, isolation, post-traumatic stress and family dysfunction. However, despite stellar work from the cast and compelling direction, the film never quite filled me with fear, nor shocked me enough to satisfy my horror needs. It works well as a slow turning of the screw type story, but at times it was too slow for me.



In essence the narrative is similar to Goodnight Mommy (2019); two kids and a maternal character are trapped together in one location and things get weird. Richard Armitage portrays Richard, a father to Aidan (Jaden Martell) and Mia (Lia McHugh), who is desperate for them to connect with his new girlfriend, Grace (Riley Keough). To precipitate this they spend Christmas at their remote holiday lodge, as you do. When Richard is called back to the city for work, Grace and the kids’ relationship begins to get cold. Thus, amidst the isolation and snowy landscape, a frozen atmosphere exists inside and outside the cabin.

Overall, the film is worth watching for Riley Keough’s committed performance as Grace; a victim of childhood trauma trying to be part of a caring family. Her character is striving for sanity, however, she gets something else altogether. The directors also do sterling work and create a compelling image system, notably around dolls, snow and religious iconography. The lodge itself is rendered creepy with sharp angles, overhead shots, skin-crawling music and darkness all used to sinister effect. But, despite the quality of the production, the central premise, slow pace and confusing plot developments drained any fear I felt by the end. Nonetheless, fans of The Shining (1980), The Thing (1982) and any number of cabin-in-the woods-horror films will find something to chill them here.

Mark: 7 out of 11


HORROR DOUBLE BILL: THE DEAD DON’T DIE (2019) & ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019) REVIEWS

HORROR DOUBLE BILL REVIEWS

THE DEAD DON’T DIE (2019)

Written and directed by: Jim Jarmusch

Cast: Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi, Caleb Landry-Jones, Danny Glover, Selena Gomez, Tom Waits and many more.

As a big fan of Jim Jarmusch films and a big fan of zombie films I was really looking forward to the Dead Don’t Die (2019). Interestingly though, it neither works as an arthouse horror film or dramatic zombie film. There’s a lot to enjoy, especially with the deadpan wit, but overall the film felt underwhelming to me.

Set in the fictional American town of Centerville, we find out fracking or some similar stupid human being industrial act has caused a global disaster. Suddenly we get a disparate set of townsfolk including hermits, Republican farmers, waitresses, cops, morticians, College kids, all fighting the living dead. The acting led by Adam Driver, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton is the best thing about the film. Yet, while I was chuckling at many of the dry lines of dialogue, the film falls flat with a plodding and disappointing ending. Jarmusch, in his inimitable style essentially undermines the raft of intriguing archetypes he has established with a deconstructive and knowing final act.

I think the main problem is Jarmusch, while paying lip service to the likes of George A. Romero, did not commit fully to making a proper zombie film. This is a comedic parody and satire which lost me when Adam Driver’s character become overly self-reflexive. Jarmusch sets up some great characters to fight the dead but throws them away for clever-clever-Godardian-oh-we’re-in-a-movie references which undermine the comedy, drama and horror. I love Jarmusch’s style and he has made some cult cinema classics. This, alas, is not one of them.

Mark: 6.5 out of 11

ANNABELLE COMES HOME (2019)

Directed and written by: Gary Dauberman

Cast: McKenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife, Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga etc.

Having watched the Dead Don’t Die (2019), I decided to make the most of my Odeon Limitless card and watch the next instalment in a franchise which shows absolutely no sign of dying. I really liked The Conjuring and Insidious franchises, which involved horror experts including James Wan and Leigh Whannell. However, the monstrous creations such as Annabelle and The Nun are pretty thin in terms of credible horror threat and cinematic quality. Having said that this latest film Annabelle 3 film already made $200 million at the box office, so what do I know!?

The story is pretty threadbare, but it concerns Ed and Lorraine Warren’s demonic spirit room which, for some bizarre reason they entrust a teenage babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) and their daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace), NOT to open while they’re away. Guess what happens? A friend of Mary Ellen, Daniela (Katie Sarife), opens the spirit room and all hell breaks loose due to Annabelle the evil doll causing all the devilish spirits to rise up and frighten the characters half to death.

I actually liked the cast of young actors here, most notably McKenna Grace, who is very talented. Daniela’s character also had some decent motivation for her ridiculous actions as she sought closure with her dead father. At times I was quite fearful due to some decent jump scares, deadly creatures and creepy use of lighting tricks. However, the whole thing seemed like a cash-in with new monsters being introduced to expand the franchise further. Even fine actors such as Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga seemed happy, laughing all the way to the bank with their book-ended cameos.

Mark: 5.5 out of 11

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: DON’T LOOK NOW (1973)

CLASSIC FILM REVIEW: DON’T LOOK NOW (1973)

Directed by: Nicolas Roeg

Produced by: Peter Katz

Screenplay by: Allan Scott and Chris Bryant

Based on the story: Don’t Look Now by Daphne Du Maurier

Cast: Julie Christie, Donald Sutherland, Renato Scarpa, Massimo Serato, Hilary Mason, Clelia Matania, Sharon Williams etc.

Cinematography: Anthony B. Richmond

Music: Pino Donaggio

**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**

I watched this classic film again on the big screen at the British Film Institute in a 4K restoration recently. It has not lost any of its cinematic power. Don’t Look Now (1973), indeed, remains one of the greatest films in the horror and thriller genre of all time.

The story is a powerful study of grief and how a couple vainly attempt to overcome the tragic death of their young daughter, Christine. The opening scene is a masterclass in image system building, cinematography, performance and editing. It is an incredible example of pure cinema, establishing the dread and suspense representative throughout the film. It truly is an iconic sequence and a rarely bettered opening cinematic salvo.

A few months later, the bereaved parents, John and Laura Baxter, are in Venice for his architectural work on an ornate church. He seems to be handling Christine’s death by throwing himself into this project. Laura is more sensitive and wears her emotions close to her skin. An encounter with two mature women causes her grief to explode as one, a psychic, states she can see Christine on the “other side.” The girl is passed but happy and smiling in the spirit world. John is sceptical, but Laura is overjoyed there is a chance to make contact with Christine.

After this encounter Christine seems to appear within the Venice tunnels, her footsteps and laughs echoing in the darkness. With a murderer also on the loose in Venice, the creeping fear within the story heightens and the suspense intensifies. With Laura keen to contact Christine again, themes and symbols relating to religion, the afterlife and occult all combine to add to the terror. Moreover, religious iconography, water, the red mac, children, tunnels, mistaken identity, death, past, present and future also add to the rich tapestry of images.

Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland are so natural in their roles. They give beautiful and haunted acting performances as the bereaved couple. The memorable love scene contained within the second act was very controversial at the time. However, the editing, loving tenderness in performance and sumptuous score illuminate a brief moment of reprieve from the prior horror and terror to come.

The ending of the film contains two big reveals which will shake even the most experienced horror genre viewer. Interestingly, when released the film was double-billed with The Wicker Man (1973), so lord knows what audiences were feeling when they left the cinema. Lastly, Nicolas Roeg and Anthony B. Richmond shoot and direct the film with precise and spectacular style. Shadows threaten, water forebodes, and the masque of the red death hangs heavy over proceedings.

With young filmmakers such as Ari Aster causing a stir with contemporary horror films about grief, death and rituals, I would certainly advise you to catch Don’t Look Now (1973) on the biggest screen you can find. It was a masterpiece of cinema when released and remains so today.

Mark: 10.5 out of 11